The disgraced Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald, has resigned, preventing a 26 County general election before Christmas.
After a tumultuous 24 hours in which further evidence emerged that Fitzgerald was aware of a dirty-tricks smear campaign against a police whistleblower, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he accepted the resignation but said he did not believe it was the “right thing”.
The Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise insisted she was not asked to hand in her resignation. She cited Brexit and other challenges facing the country as reasons behind her decision.
In a defiant statement, Fitzgerald said: “It is necessary to take this decision to avoid an unwelcome and potentially destabilising general election at this historically critical time.”
The Taoiseach, whose leadership is now badly damaged, had resisted such a move, insisting the issues raised were best dealt with by the ongoing Charleton Tribunal which is investigating the matter.
However, new emails emerging from a trawl of communications at the Department of Justice yesterday further refuted claims by Minister Fitzgerald that she was unaware of an “aggressive legal strategy” by the then Garda Commissioner, Noirin O’Sullivan, to undermine Sgt McCabe with allegations that he was a child molester. It has now emerged she received three emails on two separate dates advising her of the approach by O’Sullivan.
There had been significant resistance to a pre-Christmas election, particularly from newly elected Fine Gael TDs and those independents who form part of Varadkar’s minority government, many of whom stood to lose their seats in any election.
A humiliation for Varadkar, the outcome is a major boost for Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin who over the weekend appeared on the point of withdrawing his motion of no confidence in Minister Fitzgerald. Huge doubts now hang over the Fine Gael-led minority government, which depends on a now abandoned commitment by Fianna Fail to support confidence motions in cabinet Ministers.
In a statement, Sinn Fein’s Justice Spokesperson Donnchadh O Laoghaire said: “There are serious questions for the Taoiseach here as well. He continued to back the Tanaiste to the hilt publicly, despite having this information from Friday, and lashed out at those raising legitimate questions. He should explain why he did so.”
Pressure is also likely to grow on the current Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who replaced Fitzgerald in the post in June, and whose silence in recent days is being interpreted as potential confirmation that he was also aware of the strategy to destroy the reputation of Sgt McCabe.
It is understood Sinn Fein is ready to bring forward a motion of no confidence in Minister Flanagan, a move which could precipitate a rerun of this week’s crisis.